Closure may have finally come for those scarred by police abuse during one of the first riots by the transgender and gay communities in U.S. history.
More than five decades after officers clashed with members of the transgender community during the Compton’s Cafeteria riot in the Tenderloin, Police Chief Bill Scott apologized Monday for the department’s history.
“We the members of the San Francisco Police Department are here to reflect and apologize for our past actions against the LGBTQ community,” Scott said during a meeting with LGBTQ community members at Glide Memorial.
“We want to listen to you and want to truly hear you,” the chief added. “We will atone for our past.”
There was exuberant applause from the room after Scott’s apology.
Scott agreed to meet with the LGBTQ community after tensions flared over arrests at a Pride Parade protest in June. Police and the community had already been meeting to discuss reconciliation.
At the evening event, which was facilitated by Glide Memorial and the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, the department heard stories of decades of discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual transgender and queer people.
The conversation centered around the 1966 riot that erupted in the Gene Compton’s cafeteria, in the Tenderloin neighborhood, after police targeted and arrested a transgender woman.
People sat in the church pews under stained glass windows, listening to stories told in the open where confession is usually heard in private.
Though some were grateful for the apology for the past, others pushed Scott to acknowledge what they called the wrongs of today.
Anubis Daugherty, 25, said he is a member of the LGTBQ community who was homeless for six years.
Daugherty told Scott that LGBTQ people are disproportionately caught up in sweeps of homeless communities in The City.
“I was born here, I was raised here,” Daugherty said. “If you want to truly apologize for something you have to stop what you’re doing.”
Jo Chadwick, who for decades has advocated for the LGTBQ community as a straight ally from the Lutheran church, was among the more than 100 people in attendance.
“I especially want to apologize to you,” Scott told Chadwick.
“For 50 years you’ve been fighting and fighting for what’s right,” the chief added.
Chadwick told the crowd that many who died in the AIDS crisis had faced police discrimination and should be honored following the apology.
“I’ll go home tonight and I have names, I’ll remember those names in my prayers,” Chadwick said.
In comment cards read by event organizers, one community member asked if SFPD would voluntarily agree not to march in the Pride Parade because some LGBTQ people may be triggered by the presence of officers.
But Cmdr. Teresa Ewins, an out lesbian member of the department, said it is important to celebrate wins for LGBTQ representation within SFPD.
It is important “for kids to see us,” she said. “Many of us joined to make a difference. It’s a special day for me as well as everyone in the department who is LGBT.”
Aria Sa’id, executive director of the Compton’s Transgender Cultural District, said she wasn’t moved by the apology.
“I think there needs to be more than just an apology.,” Sa’id told the San Francisco Examiner.
Fifty years after the riot, Sa’id said the ways in which police discriminate against transgender people, and other people in the LGBTQ spectrum, have changed.
With high portions of San Francisco’s homeless community and impoverished Tenderloin neighbors being gay, queer or transgender, Sa’id said homeless sweeps homeless are in fact an action against the LGBTQ community.
“We’re often criminalized for being poor in the Tenderloin,” Sa’id said. “The mayor has increased patrols. There has to be more than an apology.”
San Francisco LGBTQ groups have previously called on SFPD to apologize for its historic discriminatory actions.
The Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club, a local progressive group that traces its roots back to the fiery gay rights trailblazer, called on SFPD to apologize for the Compton’s Cafeteria riots and for the department’s handling of the Pride protest in July.
Those protesters blocked the parade to call for police to be barred from it. One person who identified as transgender was injured during the arrests and hospitalized. An officer was also injured in the scuffle, according to SFPD.
“The irony of SFPD committing acts of brutality against peaceful protesters of the Resistance Contingent at the San Francisco Pride Parade on the 50th Anniversary of Stonewall is not lost on us,” the Milk Club wrote at the time. “It warrants outrage and swift recourse.”
The 1966 Compton’s Cafeteria riot predated the infamous Stonewall Riots in New York City. At present, both are credited with kick starting calls for LGBTQ civil rights.
The SFPD was also notorious for beating gay men, and sometimes women, who frequented gay bars in the Castro.
Officers would require they show identification far more frequently than people drinking in straight bars.
The White Night riots, also, pitted the local gay community against a violent SFPD following the light sentencing of Dan White, the San Francisco supervisor and former SFPD officer who assassinated Milk and Mayor George Moscone.
At the meeting Monday, a transgender woman who goes by the name “The Supergirl of San Francisco” told Scott in a teary testimonial that she was wrongly beaten by a hospital security guard.
When she came to SFPD for help, she said she was not listened to.
“My body was dragged and pulled up a hill,” she said. “You didn’t believe the victim. You didn’t believe me. You’re supposed to help people here, not engage in transphobia.”
On Guard prints the news and raises hell each week. Email Fitz at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow him on Twitter and Instagram @FitztheReporter, and Facebook at facebook.com/FitztheReporter.